The other day, when I was spying on the hive through the window, I noticed how warm the cluster of bees was through the glass.  Bees gather together to keep warm and actively heat the hive and brood comb when it is cool out (they cool it too when it is hot).  They need to keep the temperature "just so" for the larvae and pupae to develop.  This morning I went out to replace the feeder and took my infrared thermometer with me.  I usually use this to monitor the wood burning oven, but it comes in handy elsewhere too :-)
This was shooting the temp through the glass at the edge of the bee cluster, but there was quite a difference.  The first measurement is on the other side of the follower board next to the feeder, where there were no bees.  The second was on the bee cluster itself.  It is probably hotter still deeper in the bee cluster, but even with this we can see how warm they get.  The outside temperature was about 32*F at the time.  The bees heat up by vibrating their flight muscles in the thorax (which is where most of that sugar is going!).  I also noticed the other day that Christy at Gold Star Honeybees had linked to a great video on "heater bees" where researchers had actually used infrared cameras to capture the process.  Check out the video.

Bee-wise, not a lot of change here.  We have had another bout of colder weather - down to freezing.  This has limited the bees activity and I noticed they have started hitting the feeder again (gotta stay warm).  Today should be warmer and sunny so they should be getting out.  As for the temperature, the bees should be able to handle it, but I am anxious about the trees (plum, apple and pear) as they are just about to break out in bloom.  It is not unusual to have the crop freeze out at blossom and I'd really like to have those available for the Apis clan.


Lynn Price
05/21/2011 14:45

I love this blog! The "heater bee" video is incredible. I caught up to some basics about bees through Netflix, with a NOVA show called "Tales of the Hive".... very impressive little creatures! I cringe to think how non-chalantly I've chewed into honeycomb.....

The physiology is intriguing also - great heat accomplished by engaging a primary muscle group for flight, but not actually releasing the energy through flight....and that sequence of the re-fueling is amazing.

Have a book coming (natch), but am curious how a "natural" hive would be know, like the one's Pooh is always getting into. Imagine brood is central, with honey on the outer comb? In the winter, the bees will aggregate to the honey part, as there will no longer be any brood to watch until the weather changes?

Your East Coast Bee Fan - who is on the way to Nicaragua with students for a week as of Monday....

05/22/2011 23:06

Thanks for the comments. I have seen the DVD "Tales of the hive" before. A good intro, but a bit staged. There are few choices for "bee movies" out there, however, especially regarding top bar hives. Backyard hive, out of Boulder, does have a nice video now for TB, although their TB system is a bit different than what I am using (center entrance vs end entrance).

On warming, flexing flight muscles is a very common phenonmenom in insects. Butterflies and moths, for example, regularly do so in the morning before flight. Large beetles, such as you might find in Central America, also use the process before flying. Bees have extended the behavior to meet other needs, however, showing yet another part of their advanced level of evolution as animals.

As for natural hive structure, this is a topic I've seen mentioned very often, always without good reference. Some claim that the horizontal structure is more natural. Others claim that a vertical structure is more natural. I've been looking around at sources and references for these claims, without luck. In nature, one can easily imagine a colony setting up shop in a hollowed out snag, giving credence to the vertical camp. But then, anyone familiar with Yogi Bear knows that hollow logs on the forest floor are full of bees too, so the argument goes on. In reality, the buggers will drop camp pretty much where ever they like.

Have a good trip!


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